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Volume 762: debated on Thursday 4 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what criminal investigations the Crown Prosecution Service and Serious Fraud Office have undertaken in the last five years into allegations of corruption and other illegal behaviour involving FIFA.

My Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service does not conduct criminal investigations. The Serious Fraud Office has not opened a criminal investigation into allegations relating to FIFA. While the SFO has not opened such an investigation, it is actively reviewing material in its possession. It also stands ready to assist the US and Swiss authorities in their investigations, although, by international convention, the SFO would not comment on such matters.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Of course, by its nature this scandal is international and has been brewing for many years. We have excellent investigative and prosecuting authorities in this country. Does the Minister agree that this is the appropriate time for a thorough investigation of any possible British connection, whether through the banking system, British nationals or in any other way? Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that sufficient resources are made available for any such investigation?

My Lords, this is a fast-unfolding story. I am sure we can be generous enough to acknowledge the major contribution the United States Department of Justice has made to this matter. In the mean time, we stand ready to assist. It is a fast-developing situation. The SFO has been aware of allegations relating to FIFA for some years. It is keeping the situation under review and is ready to assist in any way it can. We do not think there is a lack of resources. Although the SFO is involved in a number of high-profile and difficult cases, including the LIBOR manipulation, resources are not an issue in this case.

My Lords, soliciting a bribe is a crime. Will the SFO make inquiries of the members of the England bid team for the 2018 World Cup, which achieved only two votes out of 22 from the committee, about whether they were approached by anybody for a sweetener in relation to their bid?

The Swiss authority’s investigation is particularly focused on the 2018 World Cup bid on the basis that the jurisdiction is based on FIFA being a Swiss private company. If there is any information that we have in this country, we stand ready to assist on that, too.

Will the Minister heed those who are calling for the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to be reopened? Will the Government make it clear that they wish to see that happen?

It depends on what is found in relation to those bids for 2018 and 2022. The Government are most concerned, as is the FA, to find out whether there was any transgression in that case. Of course we cannot rule out the possibility of those bids being reopened.

My Lords, given the growth of corruption in world bodies generally, and given that this is the year of Magna Carta, should we all not just be celebrating what the United States and Swiss authorities have done—for the reason, I understand, that the offence was alleged to have started there—but looking for a way in which international justice can make its mark in the world? Frankly, it is needed now more than it has ever been.

I agree with the noble Lord. We provide mutual legal assistance to a number of countries in accordance with treaty obligations. There are always difficulties with criminal jurisdictions extending beyond one country to another, but I entirely accept that co-operation should be the order of the day where these matters are concerned.

My Lords, would the Minister join me in congratulating my noble friend Lord Courtown on persuading Mr Blatter to resign when he did?

I suppose there might be some slight dispute over cause and effect, but nevertheless I join my noble friend.

My Lords, does Her Majesty’s oversight of criminal law extend to offshore financial centres under United Kingdom sovereignty? From what has already come out, it is clear that a number of these illegal payments flowed through offshore financial centres that are British Overseas Territories. Do the Government intend to investigate that, or do they regard it as outside their jurisdiction?

It will be a question of fact in relation to each allegation as to whether it comes within the jurisdiction. As the noble Lord may well be aware, the Bribery Act 2010 came into force in July 2011, which has to some extent extended criminal jurisdiction. The timing of any alleged offence will be crucial, but if there are any offences we are not going to be restrained if there is a prima facie case of infringement of criminal law within this jurisdiction.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to acknowledge the fearless part played in this by British investigative journalism, and the importance of a fearless and not overregulated British press?

I have absolutely no difficulty in acknowledging that, particularly the contributions by the Sunday Times and “Panorama”.

My Lords, should we not also place on record our appreciation for the initiative and courage of a Member of this House, my noble friend Lord Triesman, in raising this issue a long time ago and being thoroughly abused for it in many quarters at the time?

Equally, I am more than happy to raise that. We should also note that such is the momentum behind this investigation that we have some of the main culprits starting to turn against each other, so we can say that this investigation really has traction.